Are Younger Generations Smarter?

Every year it seems like people are getting smarter than they were before.  In high school my grade was always enrolled in more challenging classes than the year before us, while at the same time, the year below us was progressing even faster than we did.  I always assumed that this was due to improved teaching abilities and better learning methods, thinking that it had nothing to do with actual intelligence.  However, is it possible that the younger generations are actually evolving to become smarter than their predecessors?  Or is it a phenomenon resulting from other confounding variables?

An article published in The Telegraph explains a phenomenon known as the “Flynn Effect” which has been being studied for more than thirty years.  The Flynn effect was started by American scientist James Flynn in the 1980’s.  He noticed that companies who routinely gave out IQ tests had to increase their difficulty every year in order to maintain their average score at 100.  Does this mean that people arsocial-iq-main-imagee getting smarter every year?  Or is the changing world making the outdated questions too easy?  The Better Angels of our Nature, written by Steven Pinker, claims that this effect has been observed in more than thirty countries.  IQ scores improve by an average of 3 points a decade, meaning an average teenager today would have an IQ score of 118 i the 1950’s.  Clearly, the intelligence of generations is steadily increasing as time goes on.

Now the question is what has caused this change in intelligence.  Could it be that as time progresses, humans brains evolve to become more intelligent?  Or is there another confounding variable that improves mental health that didn’t exist decades ago.  According to a study conducted by the University of Aberdeen, this increase in intelligence is most likely due to improved diets, health and modernization of society.  The team looked at two groups of children; those who grew up before World War Two and those who were children during the war.  What they found was that the children who grew up during the war were on average more intelligence than those born before it.  What was different between these two groups?  The more intelligent kids grew up eating more nutritious meals, less junk food and experienced more social change than those before them.  After the war, their towns were modernized with improved schools and more political awareness.  The team believes that their upbringing is what caused them to become more intelligent than the older generation.  Instead of evolution, it was their improved lifestyles that ultimately led to their increased mental ability.  Although this study only looks at one group ofon-the-fast-track-do-the-evolution-1090x614 children there is clearly a trend occurring.  What makes this study so convincing is that it cannot be due to reverse causation, and there is so much evidence than it is hard to say it is coincidence.  Similar trends have been observed among societies for the past century.


The IQ gains experienced by the children of World War Two are not unique to their experience.  Situations like these are believed to be what causes generations to become smarter every year.  It is not due to evolution, instead, confounding variables such as improved diets and health, modernization of communities, and social awareness all lead to more intelligent generations.  Data presented in these articles is enough to conclude that children are becoming smarter than older generations, not due to evolution, but as a result of a more intelligent society.


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6 thoughts on “Are Younger Generations Smarter?

  1. Cassandra N Kearns

    I remember talking about this topic in class one day, and I definitely think it holds true. My parents, grandparents, etc. all say our generation is so smart with technology and that we put so much more time into our studies than they ever did. I think that this could also be do to ever changing technology that is always getting better. Compared to our parent’s generation, we now have Google and many other resources that make learning much easier. Here is a link that describes how Google is making us smarter by virtually being second brains:

  2. Zachary Morris

    I agree and believe the Flynn affect holds true in this case. I have two younger sisters, and one just turned 10. It is very obvious to me, someone a mere ten years older than her, that she is more technologically advanced than I was at her age. She doesn’t even own an iPhone yet, but does have an iPad. While these forms of technology aren’t the same, she is still my go-to when I have any problem with my cell phone. I find it ridiculous, but she almost always knows what button to push (or not) to solve the problem. That being said, I believe kid’s are “smarter” today because they have more access to increased technology. While it doesn’t feel that long ago, my childhood differs greatly from my youngest sisters. She almost always has a screen in front of her face whether it’s TV, her iPad, or a computer. The exposure to unlimited apps and games, along with the internet, makes each generation a little quicker, sharper, and maybe smarter than the one that came before it. This can be very obvious when you compare it on a bigger scale- say 3 generations that came before it. My sister is being exposed to technology that didn’t exist for the majority of our grandparent’s lives! Does that mean my sister is smarter than my grandma right now? No probably not. But it certainly suggest that when my sister IS my grandma’s age she will have had much more exposure to greater levels of thinking- which should make her smarter.

  3. Brett Alan Merritt

    In high school, my class was always breaking academic records that were usually set by the previous class. I figured that we just had a really smart class, or that the principal was just lying to us to increase our confidence. To hear that each generation is getting smarter is not surprising to me though. I read that IQ scores are rising at an extreme rate. How do you feel that some researchers say that our brain capacity could be increasing at a decreasing rate? Some experts say that we are getting smarter overall, but the pace will slow down dramatically.

  4. Tyler Mitchell Azar

    I remember Andrew talking about the Flynn Effect in class one day. It does seem to make a great deal of sense that each subsequent generation will be smarter than the one that came before it, between better technology, better standards of living, and having all the knowledge of your parents available to you. I do also remember Andrew saying that our generation might be the first to not be more intelligent than the last, which I found very surprising. This article goes in depth about the Flynn Effect and brings up the good point of kids being exposed to complex works of fiction, which makes them better at problem solving skills

  5. Mya Legend Avant

    While we do have great medical advances and are more aware of what is healthy to enter in the body, in today’s day and age, I think that a third confounding variable could be a cause for us to become smarter. The issue with your reasoning used in this post is that with medical advances there has also been more productions of processed foods. This means that for those who don’t live the healthiest life styles couldn’t be smarter than previous generations. But the Flynn Effect seems to be true for more than just the select group of people who have progressively been eating healthier. It could be that as time passes and more knowledge is gained we rely more on common knowledge. While it is true that common knowledge can hurt the science world and lead to logical fallacies it is also true that it has made it easier to find out new things. Our ability to record history and rely on past knowledge helps us. We don’t have to relearn everything that was learned by past people; sometimes we can just skip to the answer and go from there to discover something else new. The issue with this being the case is that it may be hard to measure in an experiment. Also it may be hard to see that we perhaps are not smarter, but rather just know more. In conclusion, eating healthy foods may correlate with being smarter, but that does not make it causal.

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